Being a text of lecture elivered by Pelumi Olajengbesi at the National Union of Journalists’ (NUJ) Correspondents’ Chapel, Federal Capital Territory Council
With the rapid technology advancement globally, the notion of Media Ethics has gained an increasing level of attention and it has become a subject of national and international discourse. The bulk of the conceptualization of Media Ethics suggest that it entails the promotion and defense of values such as universal respect for life and the rule of law. It is therefore my privileged preoccupation this morning to espouse on the operation of the Cybercrimes (Prohibition and Prevention) Act, 2015 and the need for journalists to be vigilant to the ethical standard of the profession.
Cybercrimes can be defined as criminal actions committed through the use of information communication technology such as a computer or any other electronic means. It is the fraudulent, dishonest and improper use of communication technology to misrepresent facts in the hopes of gaining an advantage over other innocent or unsuspecting users. The term cybercrime itself is a generic name used for describing crimes committed through the use of a computer or related technological devices. Cybercrimes are quite sadly and regretfully deeply rooted in the Nigerian technological space. It is not only a source of serious concern to the technological and economic space in Nigeria but a harbinger of disrepute to the image of the country around the world.
In February 2015, an Inter-Ministerial Committee managed by the office of the National Security Adviser produced a National Cyber Security Policy and Strategy document which was subsequently endorsed by the Nigerian Government. The policy was developed based on the understanding that threats to information and communication technology are a danger to Nigeria’s national security, affecting the country’s “economic, political, and social fabric.”
The explanatory note of the resultant Act, the Cybercrimes (Prohibition and Prevention) Act, 2015, gives an insight into the purpose of its enactment. The Act provides an effective, unified and comprehensive legal, regulatory and institutional framework for the prohibition, prevention, detection, prosecution and punishment of cybercrimes in Nigeria. The Act also ensures the protection of critical national information infrastructure, and promotes cybersecurity and the protection of computer systems and networks, electronic communications, data and computer programs, intellectual property and privacy rights
It is therefore crucial to submit and caution that the imperative of enacting the Cybercrime Act was not to regulate the activities of journalists. Journalism is a renowned and decent profession with high ethical standards. It is one of the noblest and oldest since the days Rome circa 59 Before Christ. However, no one who indulges in the activities criminalised by the Cybercrime act can be rightly referred to as a journalist. That said, it is sad to note that Government and the political class in Nigeria have deliberately manipulated the provisions of the Cybercrime Act to police journalists and suppress freedom of expression and thoughts, while abandoning the primary objective of the law.
The media exercises a strong influence on the perception and understanding of the world by the public. It acts as a bridge between the state and public, and must therefore be allowed adequate freedom to flourish. A free media is crucial to a true democracy. The broad set of rationales for freedom of expression is that free expression is a means to an end as it is necessary for achieving important social goals which includes the search for truth in the marketplace of ideas and test the ‘truth’ of any single idea.
Authorities in Government have attempted to silence opposition views in the online media through arbitrary interpretation and abuse of the Cybercrimes (Prohibition and Prevention) Act, 2015, particularly section 24 of the Act which addresses offensive and annoying statements on the internet otherwise known as cyber stalking, and several journalists, bloggers and individuals have been arrested in this regard. Stories, articles and expressions published online have been deemed offensive, insulting or annoying with actionable consequences under the said section even when the stories are factual. While some stories published through traditional media outlets (print and electronic) that were never sanctioned by the government have been attacked by the same government upon being rebroadcast or republished through online platforms. The government considers these repost offensive and libelous because of the rising influence of online platforms in Nigeria as major sources of information dissemination.
Clearly, government have used the accusation of cyber stalking to harass and press charges against online and traditional journalists for expressing views that are considered unfavorable to the government as some examples will illustrate.
Abubakar Sidiq Usman was arrested by armed operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for criticising the commission. He was detained for over 36 hours and denied access to his lawyer.
Musa Babale Azare was arrested in Abuja by police from Bauchi State for criticising the policies and actions of the state government on social media platforms.
Seun Oloketuyi, a respected media practitioner was arraigned before a Federal High Court for publishing a story about secret affairs of a Bank Chief Executive. Chris Nwandu, the president of the Guild of Professional Bloggers of Nigeria, was arrested and remanded in prison for 13 days after he expressed his personal opinion on the charges against Seun Oloketuyi.
Emmanuel Ojo, a blogger, was forced into political exile following threats to his life after he published a story about money laundering involving the first lady of Ogun State.
Desmond Ike Chima, a blogger, was arrested and spent the next six months in prison for publishing an article considered “damaging” about the managing director of a bank. The charges were later dropped.
Soldiers, mobile policemen and State Security Service agents stormed a hotel in Edo State and arrested 10 reporters from the independent news website Watchdog Media News.
Omoyele Sowore, a then reporter for online news outlet Sahara Reporters, but now a prominent Activist Politician was harassed by police in Lagos on the basis of a complaint about a report published on its website.
Two bloggers, Kemi Olunoyo and Samuel Walson, were detained in prison for one week before being granted bail for publishing an article about an elite pastor in Rivers State.
While it will be wrong to submit that all the persons mentioned above are journalists for the purpose of this meeting, it is important for journalists to appreciate the reality that the media now operates in a very hostile legal framework which places demands on increased diligence and compliance with stringent ethics of journalism and also that they have the increasing need to appreciate the scope of the Cybercrime Act and be familiarized with actions that amount to offences under the act and how best to navigate same to avoid adverse situations in the course of their work.
The Cybercrime Act is a 43 sections enactment which underscores the entire guiding rules. I will endeavour to mention and explain out my paper some of the offences provided by the act and how journalists can be victim of same, thus;
- The Act empowers the President to designate certain Computer systems or networks as critical national information infrastructure and offences committed against a system or network that has been designated critical national infrastructure of Nigeria can be punished with a death sentence or lesser punishment depending on the scale of the offence.
- Unlawful accessto a computer.
- Registration of Cybercafe
- System interference
- Intercepting Electronic Messages and Emails Electronic Money Transfers.
- Tempering with Critical Infrastructure.
- Willful misdirection of Electronic Messages.
- Unlawful interceptions
- Computer Related Forgery.
- Computer Related Fraud
- Theft of Electronic Devices.
- Unauthorized modification of computer
systems, network data and System interferenc
- Electronic Signatures.
14 Reporting of Cyber Threats.
- Identity theft and impersonation.
- Child pornography and related offences.
- Racist and xenophobic offences.
- Attempt, conspiracy, aiding and abetting.
- Importation and fabrication of E-Tools.
- Breach of Confidence by Service Providers.
- Manipulation of ATM/POS Terminals
- Phishing and Spamming,
- Spreading of Computer Virus.
- Electronic cards related fraud.
26.Dealing in Card of Another.
- Purchase or Sale of Card of Another.
- Use of Fraudulent Device or Attached E-mails
- Interception of electronic communications.
- Obstruction and refusal to release information
However, in line with the core principles of media ethics and journalism, media houses, institutions and stakeholders alike are expected to strive towards complying with the ethical ideals. Journalists must understand that media plays a very important role as an informer, motivator or leader for healthy democracy at all levels. Therefore, the ideals and opinions expressed via the media go a long way in ensuring that democratic ideals are protected and maintained or wrongly opposed. It is to this end that the media industry owe a duty of diligence and the prioritization of facts over sensationalism and prejudice.
The Cyber Crimes Act 2015 is one of those laws which affects media usage by criminalizing a wide range of acts such as cyber stalking, child pornography, cybersquatting, phishing spamming and fake news. It behoves on the government to apply the law properly to suit the sensibility for which it was enacted for in much the same way media houses, firms and practitioners must operate by the superintending ethics of the media profession. It is only the synergy of such demonstrable acts in good faith by government and the media that a proper and rewarding balance can be found in the media space.
Pelumi Olajengbesi, Esq. is a Legal Practitioner and Managing Partner at Law Corridor.